Tenant Fees Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 1:20 pm, 23rd January 2019

I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the List of Ministers’ Interests.

I am delighted that today we have a final opportunity to scrutinise the Tenant Fees Bill. I am grateful for the considered contributions from hon. Members to date. In particular, I thank the members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, chaired by Mr Betts, for their pre-legislative scrutiny. I also thank the Opposition Front Benchers, the hon. Members for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for their constructive engagement.

It has been clear throughout that the Bill is one that we all support and that will deliver important changes in the private rented sector, improving the lives of millions of tenants. Letting fees can impose a significant burden on tenants, who often have little choice but to pay them time and again. The Bill will put a stop to such practices by banning unfair and hidden charges, making it easier for tenants to find a property at a price they are willing to pay, and saving renters an estimated £240 million in the first year alone. I know the changes may worry some in the lettings market, but agents who offer good value and high-quality services to landlords will continue to be in demand and play an important role in the sector.

Before I speak to the Government amendments made in the other place, I want to put on the record my thanks to my noble Friend and ministerial colleague Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, who ably steered the Bill through the House of Lords, and to my noble Friend Lord Young of Cookham, who assisted. I also thank all peers who contributed positively to the debate. The Bill has benefited from their constructive engagement and scrutiny. Finally, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), for his efforts in leading the Bill through this House last year.

I believe the Lords amendments strengthen the Bill and respond to many concerns raised during the debate in this House. Lords amendments 1, 2, 5 to 12, 15 to 18, 28 to 35, 49 and 55 are minor and technical inclusions that ensure consistency in the Bill and that the Bill best delivers on the policy intent. Lords amendment 5 clarifies that letting agents are prohibited from requiring a tenant or relevant person to enter into a contract with themselves—for example, for additional services such as providing an inventory. Lords amendment 1, 2, 6 to 12 and 28 to 35 replace references to “tenant” with references to “relevant person”. Amendment 55 changes a reference to “incorrect and misleading information” to “false and misleading information”, to align with other references in schedule 2. Amendment 15 to 18 ensure that the language around “day” and “date” in clause 11 is consistent, and amendment 49 makes it clear that the definition of a television licence in paragraph 9 of schedule 1 applies to the entire Bill.

I know that many hon. Members feel passionately about capping tenancy deposits. The issue has been discussed in great detail in both Houses, and we have listened carefully to the arguments made. That is why we tabled Lords amendments 36 and 37 to lower the cap on deposits to five weeks’ rent for properties where the annual rent is less than £50,000; where the annual rent is £50,000 or more, the deposit cap will remain at six weeks’ rent. The vast majority of tenants will be subject to a deposit cap of up to five weeks’ rent. The higher six-week deposit cap will apply only to properties where the monthly rent is £4,167 or more. Valuation Office Agency data show that across England the median monthly rent is significantly less than that. The upper quartile monthly rent for properties with four or more bedrooms in London is £3,142. The higher deposit cap is intended to apply not to the bulk of the private rented sector, but to high-end rentals—a niche area of renting where the costs involved are greater, making a deposit cap of six weeks’ rent more appropriate.

The Government took a balanced view. We wanted to ensure that landlords had sufficient financial security and flexibility for their properties, but recognised concerns that a six-week cap for all tenants might not best deliver the changes to affordability that are needed at the lower end of the market. Importantly, a cap of five weeks’ rent for properties with an annual rent of less than £50,000 extends the benefits of the deposit cap to an estimated one in three tenants. I am sure hon. Members agree that that is a laudable outcome. Also importantly, a cap at five weeks’ rent also aligns with a recommendation made by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby would lower the tenancy deposit cap to three weeks’ rent for all tenancies. Above all, the amendment would not help tenants and it risks distorting the market and causing behavioural change. Using data from deposit protection schemes, we estimate that some 93% of deposits now exceed three weeks’ rent. A cap of three weeks’ rent would greatly increase the risk of the deposit not fully covering damage to the landlord’s property or any unpaid rent.